Cartilage Piercing Care, Healing & Cleaning

  • Written By Dan Hunter on July 15, 2018
    Last Updated: January 8, 2021

The biggest part of cartilage piercing care is keeping your piercing clean. Maintaining a proper aftercare routine is essential during the healing process, but it’s also good to take care of your cartilage piercing for the long-term because an infection can occur anytime, even after a piercing is healed.

Fortunately, cartilage piercing care is easy, and this guide gives you all the information you need for a trouble-free, beautiful piercing.

How Long Does A Cartilage Piercing Take To Heal?

Cartilage piercings normally take anywhere from 4 to 12 months to completely heal. As with all piercings, they heal from the outside in. This means they might appear healed from the outside before the healing process has completely finished throughout the area.

If you tend to heal slowly when you get a wound, treat your cartilage piercing like it isn’t fully healed for at least a year.

What To Do On The Day You Get Your Cartilage Piercing

In general, it’s what you do after your piercing that determines how well it heals. There are, however, a few things you can do before you get pierced that will help speed up the healing process.

Eat before you go

Eating a snack or light meal before getting a new piercing not only helps you deal with the pain better, it also prepares your body to start healing.

Proper nutrition allows your body to nourish the wound for optimal healing. This is especially important for cartilage, which receives less blood flow than other body parts. Foods rich in Vitamin C are especially important.

Check if someone is available to come with you

This isn’t a necessity, but if you’re feeling anxious, then bringing a friend along can help you deal better with the pain of getting pierced.

Have ibuprofen ready

You should not take any kind of oral pain medicine before a cartilage piercing because ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), aspirin, and naproxen all cause blood thinning, which can cause you to bleed more. However, you can have one of these anti-inflammatory pain medicines ready to take afterward. They’ll help reduce swelling. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be taken before the piercing as it will not cause blood thinning. 

Stay hydrated and avoid alcohol

Drinking enough water will help to regulate your blood pressure so that you’re less likely to pass out during the piercing process. It also helps with circulation and the healing process. Drinking alcohol may dehydrate you, increase healing time, and it can also cause you to bleed more while getting pierced.

Know your ear

Before you head to the body piercing parlor, know exactly which part of your cartilage you want to have pierced, and on which side. You don’t want to make the piercer wait while you think about it, and you don’t want to make a quick decision that you may regret later.

​Also, make sure you’re aware that cartilage piercing costs can vary widely depending on which part of the cartilage is being pierced.

Also consider the aftercare of your piercing. You may not want to get pierced on the side that you sleep on or in a place that is likely to get bumped or caught on something, either at work or recreationally.

Pay attention to aftercare instructions

After you get your cartilage pierced, the piercer will give you instructions for taking care of your new piercing. It should be something like this:

  • Keep your hands off the piercing
  • Always wash your hands before handling the jewelry or cleaning
  • Don’t sleep on your piercing
  • Clean the piercing daily with saline (salt water)

Admire your new piercing

Go ahead and look in a mirror to see how worth it your cartilage piercing is. It may look a bit red and irritated now, but once it’s healed you’ll likely be quite happy you went through the experience.

Cartilage Piercing Healing

What To Do During The Rest Of The Aftercare Phase

Aftercare is one of the most important parts of getting a cartilage piercing. It is, in fact, the difference between a healthy piercing that heals well and looks great, and one that ends up infected and damaged. The good news is it’s straightforward.

1. Soak the piercing with salt water (or a pre-made saline solution for piercings) once or twice every day.

2. Mist the piercing with saline spray occasionally throughout the day.

3. Wash the jewelry with soap and water each day, rinsing thoroughly, but don’t get the soap into the piercing itself.

You should follow these aftercare procedures for at least three months, or until you are confident that your cartilage piercing is fully healed.

You should note that lumps and bumps are relatively common around ​cartilage piercings, and they may not always be caused by infection. These bumps are commonly known as keloids or hypertrophic scars, and are mainly caused by an overabundance of scar tissue/collagen.

What Not To Do While Your Cartilage Piercing Is Healing

Of course, in addition to knowing what you should do to keep your piercing clean and healing well, there are a few things to avoid.

Don’t go swimming right away

You should wait until your cartilage piercing is no longer an open wound before getting into any body of water (other than a shower).

For cartilage piercings, it’s a good idea to wait about a month before swimming with your piercing, in order to prevent infections from bacteria in the water. If your piercing is bleeding, swollen, or leaking pus, don’t go swimming until symptoms clear up.

Don’t touch the jewelry

It used to be advised by some piercers to rotate or twist earrings to help the piercing heal correctly. This is no longer advised. You should keep your hands off your earrings to prevent infection from bacteria, and that also means no twisting or moving the earring. And moving the jewelry actually is more likely to damage your cartilage piercing and prevent it from healing well.

Don’t sleep on the piercing

Sleeping on your piercing means it is pressed up against your pillow or bed sheets, or against your head. This exposes your piercing to bacteria and sweat, and leads to irritation. Laying on the piercing will make it feel sore for longer. Instead, let your piercing breathe and get good blood circulation by not pressing it against anything while you sleep.

Don’t pick at any formed crust

Your cartilage piercings will likely leak some clear-to-yellowish fluid that dries as a crust around the site. The fluid is a normal part of the healing process and does not mean you have an infection. Do not try to pick the crust off with your fingers or fingernails. Instead, wipe it off with a cotton swab dipped in saline.

Cartilage Piercing

How To Clean A Cartilage Piercing

You know that you should clean your cartilage piercing with saline. But how exactly do you do that? It’s simple. And you have three options. The first way is to use a pre-made saline solution for piercings. The second is to make your own saline solution. The third is to buy specially designed piercing aftercare healing products.

The best aftercare product I’ve personally used is the After Inked Piercing Aftercare Spray. Not only is it vegan, but it’s also completely alcohol and additive-free. The solution works well on all skin types including sensitive skin, and it comes in a generously-sized mist-spraying bottle for easy application. When using it from the very start of the healing process, the spray helps to decrease healing times and aims to eliminate any lingering pain or soreness.​

Use saline

First, wash your hands before you clean your piercing. Starting with clean hands prevents you from spreading bacteria to the site.

Next, pour the saline into a clean shallow glass that is just large enough to submerge the pierced part of your ear into. Keep the piercing submerged for about 5 minutes.

Use a clean cloth, gauze, or a cotton swab dipped in saline to remove any crust that loosened around the piercing while soaking. Finally, rinse the piercing with clean water and dry it off.

How to make your own saline

Saline is just a solution of salt and water. However, you should not use table salt (iodized salt) for cleaning piercings.

Take one-fourth of a teaspoon of kosher salt or sea salt and stir it to 1 cup of warm distilled water. You can buy distilled water at most grocery stores. The distilling process removes impurities and minerals from the water. The water doesn’t need to be too hot, just hot enough for the salt to dissolve.

When Can I Stop Cleaning My Cartilage Piercing?

There’s no exact time that everyone should stop cleaning their cartilage piercing because each individual heals at a different rate.

What stays the same for everyone is that the inside of the piercing is not fully healed at the same time as the flesh on the outside of a cartilage piercing. That means you need to continue cleaning your cartilage piercing for at least a month after it appears fully healed.

Signs that the piercing is fully healed include the site of the piercing being normal colored and not red, swollen, or tender; no clear or yellowish fluid draining; and no pain when the area is touched.

The earliest a cartilage piercing heals for most people is 3 months. That being said, it’s not a bad idea to keep cleaning the ear with saline for up to a year.


It’s really that easy. Keep hands and dirt off your piercing, and rinse it with salt water as needed. There’s no need for harsh cleaners like alcohol or peroxide, which can dry out the surrounding skin. If you follow the simple steps above, you should have a beautiful, perfect-looking cartilage piercing for years to come.​

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